"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Friday, September 29, 2017

The Seventieth Generation

What do some of us mean when we say that climate change is an ethical problem, not merely an economic one?



Consider medieval Europe's habit of building cathedrals. There is no conceivable rational self-interest in expending resources to build a cathedral - the (oftentimes amazing) aesthetic value of the result of the enterprise occurs long after the lifetimes of the people planning and organizing the effort have come to an end.

When Christian vernacular refers to matters outside the church as "secular", they provide an answer to this, which appears to the modern homo economicus as a puzzle. Secular literally means "of the century". It is usually contrasted with "sacred" but many contemporary readers will have too many associations with this term that I'd like to avoid for present purposes. Let's go with "eternal" for present purposes. "Eternity" may be a bit of an exaggeration, but the people planning the cathedral presumably weren't sparing much thought for its eventual ruination.

"Secular" activities refer to the foreseeable future, while "eternal" activities correspond to activities in the interest of a distant future which we cannot foresee, but to which we nevertheless have a responsibility. Traditionally, our responsibility to the eternal has been to convey the best of our civilization forward to our progeny. Nowadays we have a new one.

There's a story that the Iroquois tribal culture would judge its actions on the basis of its effects as far as on the seventh generation. I don't know how true the story is, but it is instructive even if apocryphal. The responsibility to the distant future is not about our own advantage, but about the sustenance of the world for our progeny.

Our current immense power over the environment has placed us in a position where our actions have impacts on not just the seventh generation, but the seventieth.

Yet our behavior is, as anyone paying attention to the climate problem will attest, astonishingly shortsighted. Far from constraining ourselves to be considerate of the seventieth generation, we seem to have little concern for the world of our own grandchildren. How is this possible?

I propose that part of the problem is that the eternal has been systematically removed from public discourse. "Religion", we say, "is a private matter". Our collective actions are necessarily "secular'. Only secular activities are informed by objectivity. Ethical responsibilities are too divisive to discuss, and must be ignored. We can leave all the actual discussions to technocratic discourse among professionals in decision-making.

Those decision-makers are systematically "secular" in both senses. They ignore ethics, and they concentrate only on the foreseeable. They base their advice on a framework of perpetual economic growth, under which conditions a dollar today is worth two in the future. "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush" because the bird in the hand will almost surely produce more birds in the future.

In this secular way of thinking, we owe little to the distant future. The more distant in time our impacts, the less we need care about them. Our ancient obligation to carry the torch of civilization is invisible to this way of thinking. Our new obligation to leave the world viable at all for our distant descendants is considered actually beneath mention, a sort of contemptible hysteria.

Whether the reassuring calculations of econmists about the next few decades are realistic or not absorbs all of our discourse. Somehow, we find ourselves arguing about the global temperature perturbation in 2100, not the (probably much higher) global temperature perturbation when the climate equilibrates to the anthropogenic carbon pulse.

This systematically understates our generation's vast ethical transgression.

We are behaving insanely. Insanity is, above all, a failure of love. And we cannot muster the imagination to act from love for our descendants, or for what remains of the world in which they will live.

It's not as if ethical constraints on economic activity themselves are unimaginable. We no longer tolerate slavery or murder, at least not at the scale they occurred in the past. Money is no object. There is no amount of compensation that (we suppose and hope) absolves a person of murder. We just don't do that.

Drowning the coastlines, burning the forests, souring the ocean, these are not just matters for secular consideration subject to discounting.


Yet we continue to do just those things. In our daily mundane acts, we impoverish and desecrate the future of our planet. At the present scale, what we are doing is unambiguously ethically wrong.

Economics should have nothing to say about it other than to acknowledge the constraint and proceed from there.

Economics can't be expected recognize this on its own. It lacks an ethical vocabulary, and shouldn't be expected to have one. The constraints have to be imposed from outside economics. We simply have to find the gumption to tell economics that we are its masters, not its vassals.

It's especially sad and discouraging to see so many religions in denial, foolishly siding with the economic reasoning, since the disaster is partly but directly traceable to the secular overriding the eternal in our reasoning.

The sooner we can wean ourselves from what was once inadvertent destruction, but is now plainly and explicitly immoral and unjustifiable injury to the ages, the less awful we are. We prefer to hide from this culpability, understandably enough, but hiding behind economics' skirt doesn't exonerate us.

UPDATES: responses by Tom F, William C, with a postscript, and And T.T.P.

Links to other direct responses or relevant articles online or in print will be appreciated.

FOLLOW-UP here


71 comments:

William Connolley said...

You presuppose an agreed ethics; your argument is based on this, I think. Certain things - and you list some - are not merely bad, they are so bad they are forbidden. And you want to rearrange things so those forbidden things don't happen. Suppose I was someone who thought he might not agree on all you hard ethical constraints; indeed, who didn't know what all your constraints were(and who suspected that their underlying philosophy might lead them to draw different ethical conclusions), but who read from the above that you would insist on their enforcement; how might you convince me either that I did share all your constraints; or that you would only insist on enforcing the ones you had listed; in which latter case, you'd need to convince me that you'd listed them in sufficient detail.

Michael Tobis said...

"You presuppose an agreed ethics"

No, I am advocating an agreed ethics.

"Suppose I was someone who thought he might not agree..."

Then argue against the proposition at hand. Say what you mean. I'm not interested in what a suppositional position might be.

"would insist on their enforcement..."

We only can have one social contract at a time. Currently I have no choice but to participate in a social contract that is inequitable in various ways, and notably (the point here) to future generations. This is enforced upon me, and all of us.

You can suggest that there's something unseemly in advocating for something different , but I don't see why that compels me to shut up about it.

I'd prefer you confess to not caring about future generations if that is your position, rather than using this pile of doubly hypothetical hypotheticals to slyly imply that there's something subversive about updating the social contract to explicitly account for sustaining the world and its cultures.

By the way, in case it matters to anyone, I suggest that I'm the one holding a conservative position in this conversation.

William Connolley said...

> I am advocating an agreed ethics

I don't think you are. You make no effort to persuade people that your ethics are better; or clearly grounded; or coherent.

> We only can have one social contract at a time.

Is that true? Why? And obvious counter is that each country can have it's own. I'm not even sure that it is obvious that a country as large as the USA has a single, agree, social contract. Indeed much of what you are saying amounts to an argument that it doesn't.

> confess to not caring about future generations if that is your position

On the contrary, I explicitly reject that position.

> Then argue against the proposition at hand

I'd do that if I wanted to. But I want to talk about something more basic. This is your blog post, of course, and I'll go away if unwelcome, but what I'm trying to point out is that I think your argument is based on sand, and you don't even realise it.

Michael Tobis said...

Do you want to have the tangential conversation about the social contract?

Or do you actually have a criticism you can articulate better than merely sneering?

Look I often enjoy and benefit from disagreeing with you, but there's a distinction between disagreeing and being disagreeable.

"You make no effort to persuade people that your ethics are better; or clearly grounded; or coherent."

Can you provide a sterling example of such a thing I can emulate?

The climate pseudo-skeptics are always asking for proof, without exhibiting a single argument that meets their standards of proof anywhere in science. Are you not doing the same?

David B Benson said...

Eternal. Plastics from petrochemicals fill the bill. Never decaying just breaking into mini plastics, then micro plastics, soon nano plastics will be found.

I doubt that the plastics chemists ever considered this consequence.

William Connolley said...

> Can you provide a sterling example of such a thing I can emulate?

No. Because when I've touched on this (and now I look I find it hard to find the clear example I thought I had; http://scienceblogs.com/stoat/2016/11/02/one-cannot-be-handcuffed-by-data-on-a-fundamental-moral-issue-of-this-kind/ where I criticise "the issue is to be moral right and wrong, and anyone who doesn’t agree with your policies is a Bad Person and can therefore be ignored" is the best I can do for now) I've tried to say that basing your argument on morality or ethics isn't the right way to go. Whereas you seem (forgive me if I have misread you) *certain* that basing your argument on morality is the right way to go.

Proof: I'm not entirely sure what you mean by that. I think what I just said makes it irrelevant. I'm not criticising any of the *steps* in the argument, I'm criticising what your argument is founded on (your certain, but not actually clearly stated, ethics). So, if you like, I'm criticising your axioms. You might, like classical geometers, reply that *of course* the parallel axiom is well founded and unchallengable; or you might feel a certain unease about it. Or I might search harder for an example geometry in which it clearly wasn't true.

One way you could defuse my criticism would be to either clearly write down the ethics you're using, or point to someone else's exposition of them. There are, after all, more than one system.

David Young said...

Perhaps the problem here is that as Russell pointed out science has little to say about morality or as we like to call it nowadays ethics. The grounds for agreement on ethics is very shaky and basically involves persuasion that must involve more than science. It seems to me that this encapsulates the current malaise of Western culture. There is no majority agreed upon set of guiding principles regarding ethics. That's why for example we can't seem to effectively combat Islamic radicalization. We have nothing compelling to offer as an alternative. In fact, we seem to be unable to even understand what Islam is and how it differs from other major religions. Every religion has a different vision of what mankind is and what he can become. One thing is certain, the twin attempts of the 20th century to provide such an agreement, Fascism and Communism, were total disasters and morally unacceptable. But what is the Western vision? Do you have a vision, MT, that you could persuade me of?

Rusdy Simano said...

Your proposed problem does explain a lot, thanks! What strange though, the 'leftist', which considered irreligious, are more thoughtful on 'eternal' things. Exact opposite happens on the 'right'.

Anonymous said...

"There is no conceivable rational self-interest in expending resources to build a cathedral" There was no point in building the cathedrals. There is no point in doing anything here. Why should humans exist for as long as possible? Have you ever asked yourself these questions? Maybe we would be better off not existing.

"To fear death, gentlemen, is to think oneself wise when one is not, death may be the greatest of all blessings for a man, yet men fear it as if they knew"

Socrates

Michael Tobis said...

Anonymous, yeah, thanks, no.

Anonymous said...

"a failure of love" There is no such thing as love. Can you define it? Other than a particular and temporary configuration of chemicals in the brain? This is what amazes me most about environmentalists. You embrace science in some ways, and reject it in others. When you complete embrace science, it erases all illusions about our existence. We are stimulus/response meat machines, who think we have some grand purpose. No such purpose exists. We have no free will, and science supports this.

Michael Tobis said...

Right, so no ethical constraints at all? Then go away please, you're not in the target audience.

I probably know more about science than you do. Science has nothing to say about ethics one way or the other.

I'm talking to people who appreciate the remarkable fact that the universe allows there to be something when there might have been nothing. This presents us with an obligation.

If you think the fact that we are made out of a material substance absolves us of any responsibility, you are in an unimportant minority. I suggest you do what a real scientist would do, and consider whether there are ways in which you might be wrong.

Further assertions of your amorality are of no further interest here.

Anonymous said...

"What are we to make of creation in which routine activity is for organisms to be tearing others apart with teeth of all types - biting, grinding flesh, plant stalks, bones between molars, pushing the pulp greedily down the gullet with delight, incorporating its essence into one’s own organization, and then excreting with foul stench and gasses residue. Everyone reaching out to incorporate others who are edible to him. The mosquitoes bloating themselves on blood, the maggots, the killer-bees attacking with a fury and a demonism, sharks continuing to tear and swallow while their own innards are being torn out - not to mention the daily dismemberment and slaughter in “natural” accidents of all types: an earthquake buries alive 70 thousand bodies in Peru, a tidal wave washes over a quarter of a million in the Indian Ocean. Creation is a nightmare spectacular taking place on a planet that has been soaked for hundreds of millions of years in the blood of all creatures. The soberest conclusion that we could make about what has actually been taking place on the planet about three billion years is that it is being turned into a vast pit of fertilizer. But the sun distracts our attention, always baking the blood dry, making things grow over it, and with its warmth giving the hope that comes with the organism’s comfort and expansiveness."

Ernest Becker

GRLCowan said...

The big problem, as I see it, is corruption of government by Pigouvian taxes. When bads are specially taxed, goods that might replace them are subject to regulatory delay, plus protests that government treats with undue respect.

Tom said...

Test. (My last few comments on this blog have not appeared.)

Michael Tobis said...

Tom, I squelched a pissing match between you and Willard. Go on.

Tom said...

Sigh. you got me back to blogging.

https://wordpress.com/post/thelukewarmersway.wordpress.com/5634

Michael Tobis said...

That link only works for you.

Tom said...

Then let's try again, shall we? https://thelukewarmersway.wordpress.com/2017/10/07/building-for-the-past-remembering-the-future/

Michael Tobis said...

Tom you say " Given the incredible amount of change we have experienced in just my lifetime, what I see as real arrogance is to presume we know what will happen in 30 years time, let alone 300."

This is a common excuse but it doesn't hold water.

It is true that the future is more opaque than ever. But that doesn't absolve us of responsibility for it.

If you drive a thousand miles, you can't plan every lane change; you can't see the future traffic more than a few seconds in advance, a minute perhaps. But you still make lots of decisions that direct your car toward a destination.

Resilience is a principle, not a tactic.

Regarding how good or bad the climate situation is, to some extent you misrepresent my position as I understand it. Rather than a draconian shutdown of the fossil fuel economy, I advocate that we accept that we have, with likelihood approaching certainty, already failed to implement policies that can meet the 2 C target. It's too late for that. So we need to think about what that means for our future, and what target we can realistically meet.

Policies that are about as stringent as Kyoto's implemented in good faith in 1992 would have kept us to 2 C. Implemented now, policies of comparable stringency take us close to 4 C, even assuming major carbon feedbacks don't kick in. The picture is not pretty.

But in this article I want to focus on the extent to which economics, specifically economics using a discount rate, can be taken as informative in informing our long-range behaviour. My case is that it cannot, and the case is at the level of what our goals should be in planning policy.

Back to the long distance driving analogy, if you are driving down the road as fast as possible without a destination in mind, you aren't likely to get anywhere you want to go.

Tom said...

Dr. Tobis, Economics is a tool, not a religion and most use it as such.

Because economics has ways of dealing with some of the statistics that are most commonly generated by governments and large businesses, it is often called into service for strange reasons.

But that's not the case for human responses to climate change. This is exactly what economics was invented for--the allocation of scarce resources. Economics doesn't trump climate science--it offers one (not the only) method of responding to the exigencies of our future. (I would be perfectly happy to conduct all conversations about climate change using the metrics of the demand for energy consumption--so far I'm in a minority of roughly one.)

As for understanding the future, there are hackneyed examples littered across the comments sections of all climate blogs, ranging from the dilemma New Yorkers faced in 1900 regarding horse manure to... well, there are many such.

But I confess I don't see you looking much at the present at all to guide your thoughts about the future. Look in your archives as recently as 2010 and see if you foretold a three year pause in global emissions.

I am not alone in thinking that we are on the edge of developments that will make the past half century look staid and stolid--and we're not all cranks or Cornucopians.

Driving analogies will start to look suspect when we're all flying in battery powered drones. But that's okay--we'll think of other analogies.

Michael Tobis said...

It would be good if there were a three year pause in emissions! There hasn't been. What there has been is a three year period where emissions stopped growing. That means concentrations, which are basically accumulated emissions, grew at a constant rate. It's better news than continued acceleration but it's far from enough to call it good news.

Climate disruption continues until net emissions are near zero. I know this sounds unreasonable to a lot of people, but that's what the science says.

You can't argue with reality. You might be able to ignore it for a while, but that generally doesn't work out. And that's what we are doing.

Because the consequences affect a lot of other people in the world, including generations yet unborn, it raises an ethical question, which is the point here.

Tom said...

I don't think I'm arguing against reality. And I hope you don't let my sloppy phrasing on emissions distract you from my central point.

I really don't think I'm in conflict with reality. Not on climate, not on much of anything. The fact is that I don't as yet see any evidence of high levels of sensitivity to a doubling of concentrations of CO2. That makes the problems we face regarding climate change potentially very tractable. Our progress on controlling emissions make it seem quite likely that we will have adequate time to adapt to that portion of climate 'disruption' we are unable to mitigate.

Why people so interested in the history of this planet's temperatures are so determined to ignore the history of innovation by its dominant species is truly puzzling.

Michael Tobis said...

Nobody thinks they're in conflict with reality, Tom. But some people constantly question their own position, rather than merely defending it.

"determined to ignore the history of innovation by its dominant species" does not apply to me. You are straw-manning me.

"Our progress on controlling emissions make it seem quite likely that we will have adequate time to adapt to that portion of climate 'disruption' we are unable to mitigate." Well, no, I don't think so, and I'm pretty sure I know more about it than you do.

But in your view, how likely is "quite likely". How likely would a plane crash be before you refused to get on a plane?

Tom said...

First, I'm not setting up any straw men. It has been a notable characteristic of those holding fast to the climate 'consensus' that they overlook, ignore or downplay the role of innovation. You and your companions here deride those like me, calling us Cornucoopians who think technological innovation serves the role of the cavalry riding over the hill with banners waving, a deus ex machina that is more myth than machine.

But to justify your mockery of those of us who place great hope in innovation, you have to ignore innovation. Which you do. Run through your posts here at In It For The Gold and over at Planet 3 and call up some examples of you acknowledging a positive role for innovation and its potential to assist in mitigation or adaptation to climate change. You have a decade's worth of writing to draw from.

When you write, "But some people constantly question their own position, rather than merely defending it," I am somewhat astonished--I have seen no sign of you doing that. I on the other hand did--and moved from skeptic to lukewarmer in a matter of months. I'm happy to be educated on this point--feel free to link to your writing that question your position.

You have often claimed to know more than me. And yet you have often made many claims that have been proven to be very wrong. And whatever the basis of your claims, they are accompanied by a distinct lack of curiosity. You don't ask questions, Dr. Tobis. On the infrequent occasions that you do, you show no evidence of having listened to the reply.

I would submit that your two calculations are not similar in any important fashion. But in 2014 I refused to travel on an Air Asia flight because two out of several tens of thousands of their flights had experienced extreme difficulty in that time frame. I safely took another airline. I landed in Jakarta and calmly got into a taxi which got rear-ended on the way to my hotel. What lessons can be drawn from this? None, I would submit.

The IPCC does not think our plane is going to crash. Here is a summary of their projected impacts by end of century: https://thelukewarmersway.wordpress.com/2015/05/28/ipcc-wg2-tells-us-what-26-key-risks-of-climate-change-are-and-how-to-fight-them/

That only takes care of 3 of the 70 generations that concern you. 3 generations ago my grandmother did not have electricity, running water or indoor plumbing in her house. 70 generations ago, neither did my remote ancestors in various parts of England, Scotland and Germany. However, I would not ask those remote ancestors to prepare for my generation, because if I did they would probably have been more concerned with my mortal soul than my well-being.

My grandmother lived to see man walk on the moon.

David Young said...

My belief is that we should all hope that energy technology has some breakthroughs in the next decades that will help us lower emissions. I don't think draconian enforced scarcity of energy is going to work very well. It has not worked well throughout human history, with the possible exceptions of times of war. In a democratic society, the time limit for this is probably order of 5 years or so. Think of Vietnam and Iraq.

Willard said...

Speaking of agreed ethics, our Stoatness' very idea of a “correct” discount rate [1] presumes that we agree on some ethical ground about the value or our children's children's lives compared to ours.

The whole idea of making a purely economic case to tackle AGW collapsed with the myth of a fact/value dichotomy.


[1]: http://stoat-spam.blogspot.com/2017/08/indeed-and-its-hard-to-decide-which-of.html

Michael Tobis said...

"It has been a notable characteristic of those holding fast to the climate 'consensus' that they overlook, ignore or downplay the role of innovation."

I don't think there's a "climate consensus "on how to respond to the situation, other than that net carbon emissions must cease.

I for one have been a supporter of CCS, nuclear, and biofuel all along. However, I try to be realistic about the prospects for these. The prospects for a solution to the problem on a rapid enough timescale to avoid 2 C are marginal, even if we presume a very engaged public and a very competent policy sector, neither of which is in prospect on the time scales needed.

I therefore recommend pulling out all the stops on conservation, renewables, nuclear, CCS and biofuel research, development, and deployment. I also recommend tolerance for mistakes, especially mistakes involving money rather than life and limb. I think this will be expensive. I don;t think the market will do it without direct and vigourous intervention.

Had we treated this problem sensibly a quarter century ago, it would not have turned out to be enormously challenging. It's too late for that. At this point, our procrastination increasingly carries an immense ethical burden.

Is it already hitting the fan? Some people think so. They are underestimating the problem. You ain't seen nothin' yet.

Can the current state of affairs maintain itself? By that I mean allowing economics to dominate all decision-making, and everyone acting in self-interest with the faith that it will all work out in the end? I am sure it will eventually fail. Will it fail in my lifetime? I am 63. Maybe it can limp along another 30 years while I do so as well. But is this a normal state of affairs? Is history over? Will market-driven capitalism, national sovereignty, and unlimited concentration of capital last until 2200? That's implausible.

Does that matter to what we do now? That's an ethical question, one which draws on other aspects of our humanity than our capacities as calculators and competitors. I would say it matters very much. But our culture does not.

Tom said...

That's a lot of questions for one comment.

It is good that you support nuclear. However, that's not exactly innovative, having been around for 70 years or so. I also support CCS and biofuels, although the two will need beaucoup support before they're ready--and in fact they may never be.

Although I think we will face 2C later this century (IPCC said 2080-2100, IIRC), I am not among those who think this change will be massively disruptive. It will cause changes that will be expensive and will require a change in lifestyles for a large number of people.

As for your questions:

"Can the current state of affairs maintain itself? By that I mean allowing economics to dominate all decision-making, and everyone acting in self-interest with the faith that it will all work out in the end?" I think probably so--Any systemic threats arise from sectors outside of environmental concerns and start with our President.

"I am sure it will eventually fail. Will it fail in my lifetime? I am 63. Maybe it can limp along another 30 years while I do so as well." Well, next time you wonder why I call you Dr. Doom, you might remember this sentence. First, economics doesn't dominate all decision-making. Else Britain would have stayed in the EU, Iran would forswear sanctioned activity and Russia would not be a third world country with nukes. What economic mechanism do you see causing system failure in the next 30 years?

"But is this a normal state of affairs? Is history over? Will market-driven capitalism, national sovereignty, and unlimited concentration of capital last until 2200? That's implausible." It's not a normal state of affairs. Normal for humanity is nasty, brutish and short for the masses, not hundreds of millions being lifted out of poverty because of capitalism.


Markets aren't the way to deal with all issues--but the number of issues fit for markets is larger than you think and for those issues markets work wonderfully well. Capital tends to concentrate--until it doesn't any more. Microsoft was going to own the world, remember? Or was it AOL?

As for national sovereignty, the Westphalian scheme probably has a long run ahead of it before it achieves vestigial status, I'm sad to say. But that's in large part because we keep proving to ourselves that international institutions are not yet ready for prime time.

As I wrote long ago on Bart Verheggen's blog, we live in an age of miracles, as miracles would have been defined in any other age.

"Does that matter to what we do now?" That depends on whether our plans and actions are governed by fear or some combination of hope and ambition. I've lost most of my ambition--but I am full of hope.

Again, read what the IPCC says are the projected impacts by 2100 due to climate change. The link is above. It doesn't rise to the level of daunting... so chill.

Willard said...

> read what the IPCC says are the projected impacts by 2100 due to climate change

Kevin Anderson did:

The commentary demonstrates the endemic bias prevalent amongst many of those developing emission scenarios to severely underplay the scale of the 2°C mitigation challenge. In several important respects the modelling community is self-censoring its research to conform to the dominant political and economic paradigm. Moreover, there is a widespread reluctance of many within the climate change community to speak out against unsupported assertions that an evolution of ‘business as usual’ is compatible with the IPCC’s 2°C carbon budgets. With specific reference to energy, this analysis concludes that even a slim chance of “keeping below” a 2°C rise, now demands a revolution in how we both consume and produce energy. Such a rapid and deep transition will have profound implications for the framing of contemporary society and is far removed from the rhetoric of green growth that increasingly dominates the climate change agenda.

http://kevinanderson.info/blog/duality-in-climate-science/

The lukewarm playbook is full of miragulous sleights of hands.

Tom said...

Yeah, what sleight of hand it is--Presto Change-o and watch me pull a rabbit out of my..er... hat.

What sneaky depths these lukwarmers sink to--quoting the IPCC...

http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/wg2/ar5_wgII_spm_en.pdf

Michael Tobis said...

I am not running this blog for you two to get on each other's case. Please stop.

Tom said...

Dr. Tobis, I think you would like this. I did.

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/oct/09/socialism-with-a-spine-the-only-21st-century-alternative

TinyCO2 said...

Your second sentence is 100% wrong. There was a rational reason to build cathedrals. They were to secure a cushy afterlife by those who were the richest of the rich. When almost all the assets were owned by a handful of people, it wasn't odd for them to expend those assets (including people) building something that an atheist would consider a pretty building but for the donor would be life ever after. Once the cathedral was built, as much money again if not more would be spent to support the priests saying prayers and lighting candles for the departed. I suspect they would be disappointed that almost all of those prayers are now in the past. Although often their names live on, which is something. I'm sure that the people who commissioned cathedrals thought that the peasants would benefit from having such buildings in their community. I'm even sure that many of the peasants thought that they gained from the employment and the spiritual boost but I'd not swap with them. Most of us peasants now live more luxurious lives than the lords and ladies of the days when cathedrals were built and it is that consumption that drives CO2 emissions. However we don't have masses of spare wealth to give away for the future, like those multibillionaires (equivalent) of the past. Unlike those people, we won't get a reward for our generosity. We don't know if our investments will be any good or if they'll be crumbling ruins, even in our lifetime. Stop romanticising people who lived very different lives in the past. Cathedrals were as selfish as any oligarch's mansion, only the builders were paid even less.

Michael Tobis said...

I understand that cathedrals were actually tourist attractions, as well. Cathedral towns won economically over their rivals. So this might have short term benefits as well.

Similarly. the people who build wind farms and the like can be said to benefit from global warming. This factor confuses many on both sides.

Nevertheless, the aggregate profit/loss for responding adequately to climate change will put us in the red on any economic time scale. I think the same could be said for cathedrals.

People do what they do for whatever rewards they get. When it comes down to it, I get elf-righteousness points for my jeremiads, right? It rewards me in a sense, that I get to think of myself as a good person, or at least trying to be. There are balances in everything.

My estimate is that cathedrals would not have been built if there wasn't a belief in an obligation to the far future, even if the building benefitted some people directly. That was certainly part of the pitch. And what I'm doing is similar - I'm arguing here that we need to consider the future outside the discount rate horizon, that economic reasoning is not enough.

TinyCO2 said...

All the rewards were for the individual. The Patron got their ticket into heaven. The peasant got paid (and the alternative was starvation) and may also have felt he was securing his future. The priests and monks got a living out of it, sometimes very lucrative ones. There was a concept of saving the peasants but only as an afterthought and they had to be the right sort of peasants. No heathens or different religions. Those peasants paid heavily for their salvation both physically and financially.

If you want to stimulate mass action then you have to convince people of both the cause and the actions. We can't be swayed by myth and magic any more. Not to do stuff we don't want to anyway. By setting people free, we now build edifices that dwarf even the mightiest cathedral, in a fraction of the time and nobody needs to be sold a fairy story or threatened with death to do it.

Michael Tobis said...

ain't no fairy tale, honey

TinyCO2 said...

'ain't no fairy tale, honey' isn't that persuasive, whether we are talking about religion or climate change. At the moment you have the same problem as the Christian Church, lots of people tick the survey box but don't turn up at the doors, not to pray any way.

The past has very little to offer in way of mobilising the public. We are not the same people and live very different lives to those who built cathedrals.

Willard said...

First sentence of the Summary:

Human interference with the climate system is occurring, and climate change poses risks for human and natural systems (Figure SPM.1)

http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/wg2/ar5_wgII_spm_en.pdf

Assessment Box SPM.1 contain five conclusions:

- high confidence that ecosystems and cultures are at risk, the risk increasin each C added, with great consequences already at 2C;

- high confidence that extreme weather events are already moderate and moderate confidence it will be higher each C added;

- medium confidence that the poor will suffer more;

- aggregate global impacts start to be serious at 3C;

- risks of large-scale singular events become hight at 3C.

In the assessment of that box, the only case where 3C is not in the cards around 2100 is with a low emission mitigation scenario.

This is where the magic operates:

The IMAGE 2.6 scenario requires very aggressive emissions reductions early in the century and deployment of negative emissions technologies later in the century to achieve radiative forcing of 2.6 w/m2 in 2100.

http://www.ipcc.ch/meetings/session30/inf6.pdf

Just like Kevin Anderson said.

Michael Tobis said...

Thank you W . Well done.

Ken Fabian said...

"It has been a notable characteristic of those holding fast to the climate 'consensus' that they overlook, ignore or downplay the role of innovation."

I rather think it has been the opposite; innovation has been very much the essence of addressing climate change. Yes, climate action advocacy was taken up early by political environmentalism with it's distrust of nuclear but it was always the choice of political leadership of other kinds to not take it up or to obstruct and oppose. In some ways the association within public discourse of climate advocacy with extremist ideology was aided and abetted by opponents, who sought to discredit it and the science behind it.

By infecting as much of their support base with climate denialist and economic alarmist memes - with added inoculation against counter arguments based on evidence and reason - the political Right has to bear most of the blame for failing to give support for much of the very innovation the problem requires. It's obstructionism even bears responsibility for rendering the largest bloc of existing support and tolerance for nuclear - that within it's own support base - unusable through it's antithetical, overlapping and higher priority commitment to NOT fixing the climate problem.

Extreme environmentalism can't do renewables at the scales needed - landscapes covered in wind turbines and solar farms and the mining that supports them or tolerate new build hydro for pumped storage. The growth in these - and growth in acceptance of the need for more of these - are not evidence of the influence of extreme political environmentalism but of both moderate environmentalism's capacity for compromise and other, more mainstream influences growing sufficiently to take on the mantle of leadership.

TinyCO2 said...

Sorry Willard but that's also demonstrably unconvincing. The proof is in what people do, not what they say.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-4968064/Conservationists-average-nine-flights-year.html

"The study, published in the journal Biological Conservation, concluded: ‘Many conservationists undertake environmentally harmful activities in their private lives such as flying and eating meat, while calling for people as a whole to reduce such behaviours.’

Dr Brendan Fisher, from Vermont, said: ‘Our results show that conservationists pick and choose from a buffet of pro-environmental behaviours the same as everyone else.'"

Now as proof of belief you might point to the Paris accord or the UK Climate Change Act or even the rise in renewable energy but those were the easy steps. As Germany is finding after 8 years with no CO2 reduction, and predictions that they'll miss their next targets. Unlike truth, belief isn't binary, yes or no, it's a scale. The harder the actions, the greater the belief needs to be.

David Young said...

I had a previous comment that did not appear. It does seem to me that the problem here for MT and those advocating strong action, which amounts to enforced scarcity (barring some big innovations in energy technology), is simply human nature. People are always unwilling to take very seriously problems that have effects a long time in the future. Particularly those who have trouble with day to day survival issues.

Also, it is really counterproductive I think to trot out the usual witches to be burned. You need to persuade people, not just blame them for your failure to do so. There are many long term threats to life on earth. Apparently, NASA now wants to take preemptive action to forstall a Yellowstone super eruption. But its controversial because some are concerned the action might actually set off an eruption.

Michael Tobis said...

The arguments from political infeasibility are hopelessly circular. This has been driving me mad for decades.

First we decided what we should do. Then we decide how to convince everybody else to do it.

Saying it will be very difficult to convince everybody to do something is not an argument not to do it nor an argument not to try to convince people to do it.

That we are likely to fail politically is true, but it is not an argument against what we advocate. I call this the confusion of description and prescription.

My doctor wants me to cut down on salt. He knows that I am not likely to cut down as much as he advocates. But that is not a reason for him not to advocate it.

Mal Adapted said...

I actually agree with TinyCO2 here: All the rewards were for the individual. The Patron got their ticket into heaven. The peasant got paid (and the alternative was starvation) and may also have felt he was securing his future. The priests and monks got a living out of it, sometimes very lucrative ones. There was a concept of saving the peasants but only as an afterthought and they had to be the right sort of peasants. No heathens or different religions. Those peasants paid heavily for their salvation both physically and financially.

TinyCO2 is describing cultural drivers of the Drama of the Commons. AGW is a result of the 'freedom' producers and consumers of goods (e.g. energy) and services (e.g. intercession with a deity) enjoy on the free* market, to privatize the full benefit of our transactions while socializing all the private marginal cost we can get away with. Only the 'visible hand', i.e. collective intervention in the free market, limits what we get away with.

I differ with TinyCO2 here, OTOH: If you want to stimulate mass action then you have to convince people of both the cause and the actions. We can't be swayed by myth and magic any more. Not to do stuff we don't want to anyway. By setting people free, we now build edifices that dwarf even the mightiest cathedral, in a fraction of the time and nobody needs to be sold a fairy story or threatened with death to do it.

First, Elinor Ostrom was awarded the 2009 Economics Nobel for showing how Dramas of the Commons can be addressed by 'polycentric' collective action, i.e. at multiple organizational scales (nap.edu/catalog/10287/the-drama-of-the-commons). In Western liberal democracies, collective intervention at the neighborhood, municipality, sub-national and even national political levels 'merely' requires convincing a governing plurality to re-privatize at least some socialized marginal cost.

Next, TinyCO2's assertion "We can’t be swayed by myth and magic any more" is falsified by inspection, although "Not to do stuff we don’t want to anyway" answers that challenge 8^). The current POTUS, for example, was elected by a numerical minority of US voters on the strength of xenophobic and nationalistic myths, and promises to conjure magical economic rewards. Donald Trump notwithstanding (if only!), IMO the growth of the disinformation industry over the past several decades, a result of foresighted re-investment by the Koch club of a tiny fraction of annual fossil fuel revenues, is why decarbonization of the US economy isn't well under way by now.

* free of collective intervention, that is.

Mal Adapted said...

BTW, Michael, be sure to thank aTTP for driving traffic to your post!

Ken Fabian said...

TinyCO2 - our individual choices are often not rational or closely aligned with our stated beliefs. We live within a society and existing systems that also influence our choices. It's at the policy and planning of energy systems level - where decisions should not be made based on our individual inclinations or beliefs - where they have to be grounded in deeper knowledge and understanding of consequences. The more complicated it all is, the more that we need our experts.

Germany is continually held up as either success story and failure. The emissions impacts of nuclear closures, rather than failures of renewables seem to be the most significant factor in emissions outcomes stalling. It's not how I would have done it were it up to me - given that emissions reductions look to me to be a good reason to compromise on my reservations about nuclear.

There are other factors than emissions - reasons, good and bad, to distrust nuclear and raise up renewables and reasons to sacrifice nuclear and protect coal; it took unwillingness to fight for nuclear on the basis of it's emissions profile by interests outside of political Greens to get that agreement to shut them down. It took interests outside of the Greens fighting hard for coal, despite it's emissions profile, to get that agreement.

I see the economics of renewables changing so fast (whilst other options are not) that I'm reluctant to believe they won't continue to be adopted in greater amounts, and will push past the stalling of emissions reductions from nuclear closures. As the storage side develops I think the emissions profile for renewables will more closely align with their capacity - because fossil fuel plant will be idle or shut down more often as renewables more closely follow demand and reliance on fossil fuel plants to smooth the intermittency decreases.

Mal Adapted said...

David Young: It does seem to me that the problem here for MT and those advocating strong action, which amounts to enforced scarcity (barring some big innovations in energy technology), is simply human nature.

Mr. Young, 'human nature', whatever that may be, is presumably a problem. Advocacy of 'enforced scarcity' is surely not. The problem here is the misapprehension that enforced scarcity is required to mitigate AGW because nothing can quantitatively replace fossil fuels as energy sources. I attribute that false belief to the relentless flood of professional-grade bespoke AGW denial into the public sphere, a positive return on the Koch club's re-investment of a trivial fraction of annual fossil-fuel revenues to protect the rest.

With due respect, 'enforced scarcity' my pale, wrinkled buttocks. What's actually required is for energy consumers to pay the equivalent of a few bucks more for a tankful of gasoline at the pump. All the carbon-neutral energy technology needed to decarbonize the US and global economies has been invented. What's left is for the 'visible hand' of collective action to enforce, not 'scarcity', but re-privatization of a minimum fraction of the marginal climate change costs of fossil fuels in their price, as with a revenue-neutral US Carbon Fee and Dividend with Border Adjustment Tax (citizensclimatelobby.org). Subsequently, the 'invisible hand' of the market, namely consumers' impulse to thrift and the lure of profit for entrepreneurs, can be expected to drive R&D and build-out of carbon-neutral supplies and infrastructure rapidly, cost-effectively and with reasonable fairness.

BTW, Richard Thaler's elucidation of the market salience of that last criterion, among other incommensurable private utilities, is what got him the 2017 Economics Nobel award. That's for a whole bunch of additional discussions.

Willard said...

> that's also demonstrably unconvincing

While I do love chasing squirrels, Tiny, I'll simply point out that one does not simply demonstrate unconvincingness and acknowledge your tu quoque.

You might wish to have a talk with Peter Kalmus:

https://twitter.com/ClimateHuman/status/918212746822402048

Thanks for playing.

David Young said...

Mal Adapted, Not sure what you are saying as is quite vague and nonspecific.

You say: "What's actually required is for energy consumers to pay the equivalent of a few bucks more for a tankful of gasoline at the pump. All the carbon-neutral energy technology needed to decarbonize the US and global economies has been invented."

And what's the evidence for that? Small carbon taxes will not have much effect on consumption patterns. Carbon-neutral energy technology is getting cheaper, but obviously its still not competitive with natural gas for example, which is very cheap right now in the US. Strong subsidies seem to be required to make significant inroads with solar and wind, because of the intermittency issue. We can all hope for innovation to help us out here and everyone will agree with that. I certainly agree with it and think Bill Gates' investments in innovation are the most rational response to this issue.

You said: "I attribute that false belief to the relentless flood of professional-grade bespoke AGW denial into the public sphere, a positive return on the Koch club's re-investment of a trivial fraction of annual fossil-fuel revenues to protect the rest."

You seems to me to fall into the trap of burning the same dead witches always trotted out whenever there is a problem that theology can't explain. "Koch" brothers have little to do with what happens on this issue. There is vastly more money being spent by the climate alarmed than by those who disagree.

David Young said...

MT, I'm not claiming that political feasibility reflects on the "validity" or "morality" of any course of action. It's a free country and people can advocate anything they want.

Just as an example of "scarcity advocacy" from the past, you could advocate that people eat less fat, encourage that with government policy, and cause a huge change in the way processed foods are made. What happened is that carbohydrates were substituted for fats. Now after 50 years better science is showing that the original science was wrong and opposite of the truth. I doubt that the consumption of fat decreased significantly in response to the advocacy and government policies. Fat after does taste good generally.

The question is a practical one, not a theoretical one. The goal presumably is to get as far as you can toward reducing emissions. I'm just saying that the way to do that is through practical things like natural gas, nuclear, and technological innovations that people will actually readily accept. I don't think anything else will work. But you can advocate in a way that achieves the opposite of your presumed goal if you want. It's just not very smart or in fact ethical, assuming of course that your goal is in reality highly beneficial.

Tom said...

Mal Adapted, just speaking from best memory, do you have any idea of how many quads of energy humans consumed last year and, of that number, how many were provided by renewable sources of energy?

The Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration says the world consumed 581 quads in 2016.

Liquids 190.6
Natural gas 128.9
Coal 158.2
Nuclear 26.0
Other 71.7

Of those 71.7, about 33 came from Hydroelectric generation. About 36 came from burning wood--some as pellets in plants, but most as open flames for cooking and heating in the developing world. And not quite 3 came from wind, solar and biofuels.

If we quit using fossil fuels, enforced scarcity will occur.

Mal Adapted said...

Tom,

If we quit using fossil fuels all at once, you're probably right. That's highly unlikely to happen for any number of reasons, however, which is why a US Carbon Fee and Dividend with Border Adjustment Tariff isn't intended to prohibit fossil fuel use, just to make us pay a larger fraction of our marginal climate-change costs. The equal-size dividends ensure that those who use more than the national per-capita average amount of fossil fuels pay those who use less than the average, but all the revenue remains in consumer hands, to shift to available carbon-neutral energy when FFs are priced to account for there socialized cost. Any American who drives across town to perform an errand can afford to pay a few bucks more the the gasoline to do it.

Do you have so little confidence in the invisible hand?

Mal Adapted said...

David Young: You seems to me to fall into the trap of burning the same dead witches always trotted out whenever there is a problem that theology can't explain. "Koch" brothers have little to do with what happens on this issue. There is vastly more money being spent by the climate alarmed than by those who disagree.

You just outed yourself as an AGW-denial denier. The decades-long multi-billion-dollar investment campaign by the Koch club is abundantly documented in the public record. I'm sure you can find it if you're honestly looking. If you can't, expose your ignorance again and I'll provide a couple of citations. That witch is very much alive.

Michael Tobis said...

Mal, see this thread: https://twitter.com/drvox/status/919983488610136064

I personally don't think the Kochs are the core problem, and I don;t think it's especially well-documented, but I'm pretty sure there's a ton of *un* documented money muddying the waters. Probably not billions. People are more easily swayed than that.

Meanwhile the bunkosphere typically attributes the *entire* USGCRP budget (which is a gross overstatement of the climate *research* budget) to propaganda.

People believe what their tribe tells them.

That said if there us an "abundantly documented" "multi-bullion" "Koch club" disinformation campaign I'd appreciate if you'd point specifically to that documentation.

People believe what their tribe tells them.

Mal Adapted said...

Michael,

Thanks for the link. I had assumed you were familiar with all this. The Koch brothers themselves are, if not the core problem, at least acceptable figureheads. I use 'Koch club' as a label for the individuals, families and corporations who've been made wealthy "beyond the dreams of avarice" by the freedom they enjoyed on the energy market to socialize the climate change cost of their businesses. However, quoting a NYTimes review of Jane Mayer's 2015 book Dark Money:

To protect their investments in coal and oil pipelines and refineries (somewhat pared down in the last decade), the Koch brothers have, Ms. Mayer points out, funded think tanks committed to raising doubt about climate change. They have also spent tens of millions of dollars to roll back environmental regulations and defund or abolish the federal agencies that write and enforce them.

For some deep background on the Koch family's long-term investment strategy, see Forbes staffer Daniel Fisher's 2012 Inside The Koch Empire: How The Brothers Plan To Reshape America:

The goal has always been, Charles says, "true democracy," where people "can run their own lives and choose what they want to buy, choose how to spend their money." ("Now in our democracy you elect somebody every two to four years and they tell you how to run your life," he says.) Both Kochs innately understand that--unlike the populist appeal of their fellow midwestern billionaire Warren Buffett and his tax-the-rich advocacy--their message of pure, raw capitalism is a much tougher sell, even among capitalists.

So their revolution has been an evolution, with roots going back half a century to Koch's first contributions to libertarian causes and Republican candidates.


For available specifics, I'm drawing on Robert Brulle's 2014 peer-reviewed report Institutionalizing delay: foundation funding and the creation of U.S. climate change counter-movement organizations as well, as on Dark Money, as well as on Dark Money. Brulle, for example, reports that "the 91 CCCM organizations had a total income of more than $7 billion over the eight year period 2003–2010".

Of course, nobody's going to nail down exactly who paid what to whom when, for exactly what purpose, as Koch club members have lawyers who advise them not to do that sort of thing in the open. Especially after obtaining favorable SCOTUS rulings making it easier to hide. David Koch felt free to talk to Daniel Fisher, presumably because it's legal in the US to swamp the public sphere with professionally-crafted disinformation, as well as to purchase political influence outright. Regardless, it's what we're facing enroute to a governing plurality.

Mal Adapted said...

Corrigendum: it was Charles Koch, not his brother David, who spoke to Daniel Fisher.

Mal Adapted said...

Also, Michael: US voters may come cheap, but one assumes astute businessmen (hey, if I'm so smart, why ain't I rich?) wouldn't invest money in public disinformation without expecting a positive ROI.

Michael Tobis said...

I am convinced that the Kochs and their cohort spent a lot of money for outcomes I don't agree with. I don;t think anyone doubts that they have purchased a lot of political influence and have been successfully manipulated public opinion.

I am not thereby convinced that the flood of climate disinformation (and presumably professional rumormongering about climate) is directly funded by them.

I think recent events have opened more people's eyes to the methodologies of subversion, though these are not new. A study of the Nazi era reveals many precursors, though they didn't have the tools that Facebook and Twitter offer them.

Are the Kochs the real perpetrators? I don't know. It would be good if some real journalists tracked the sources of the lies down specifically as applies to climate discourse. I still suspect the Kochs are minor players in this crucial aspect of our ongoing disaster, but this is far from my turf and I could be wrong. If you have specific evidence that they are involved, e.g., in the calumnies of "climategate", or comparable propaganda efforts, I'd appreciate specifics.

Mal Adapted said...

Michael, the evidence I have is what's in the documents I linked. Mayer, as a long-time contributor to The New Yorker, is assuredly a 'real journalist'. Fisher's article for Forbes ("The capitalist's tool") is the more credible for the sympathetic venue.

Mayer and Brulle both unearth past expenditures on "non-profit" organizations, that were created to propagate AGW-denial and pro-fossil-fuel propaganda among other "Koch club" agenda items. Of course the Kochs aren't the only members of the club: Brulle lists the Scaife Affiliated Foundations and a dozen or so other major petrodollar-endowed donors to his CCCM organizations. I'd appreciate more, and more recent, specifics too, but like I said:

Of course, nobody's going to nail down exactly who paid what to whom when, for exactly what purpose, as Koch club members have lawyers who advise them not to do that sort of thing in the open. Especially after obtaining favorable SCOTUS rulings making it easier to hide.

The absence of more recent detailed evidence is hardly evidence of absence, in any case. I feel it's safe to assume the smoking guns are merely better concealed now. AFAICT, none of these people are breaking the law of the land (not after rewriting it, at least), so we don't owe them a presumption of innocent intent, do we?

Ken Fabian said...

I'm reluctant to attribute the various strands of opposition and obstruction to any singular sources even as some have been very significant. Rather, I think we have had people within industry and commerce assess the implications preferentially through the narrow lenses of how climate responsibility would impact costs, competitiveness and profitability of activities within their responsibility rather than on the merits of climate science itself.

Pre-existing notions of climate and weather being beyond the reach of humans to change - that humans bear no responsibility - made rejection of such responsibility a kind of default position. Acceptance of responsibility leads to a burden of costs and difficulties that rejection of it avoids; the economic fears of those costs flowed upwards to politicians who advocate for businesses and downwards to their employees, who's job security was always more immediately important and influential in their decision making than more diffuse and distant concerns.

The kinds of regulation and burdens of costs that governments might impose were, unlike the vagaries of climate and weather, things that affected businesses knew they could influence, through an existing toolkit - direct influence by prominent individuals, judicious donations to parties and candidates, lobbying through industry association as well as PR and tankthink.

I think the two main strands of argument came to dominate because of their perceived effectiveness; undermining public trust and confidence in the climate science that underpins it and alarmist economic fears of the consequences of governments accepting that climate risks were real, actions likely to take the forms of regulations and taxation.

Some captains of commerce and industry undertook more of prosecuting those arguments than others but most people in almost every kind of business felt that their costs and profitability would be hurt by governments intervening in response to fears about climate change - by more regulations, punitive taxes and rising costs of energy upon which they all depended in varying degrees. Not surprisingly, those people within industries most directly impacted by climate responsibility being a real thing - fossil fuel miners and industrial users of energy - have tended to be the strongest advocates for it not being a real thing.

I suspect our mainstream media, who's primary customers are not the readers and viewers, but large corporate advertisers, has found it in their commercial interests to mirror their concerns and opinions within editorials and commentary - which are, as businesses reliant on low cost energy, their own as well. And, given that persuasion of the public to buy stuff, often against an individuals own best interests, is a primary activity, there is a degree of amorality that is at odds with the nobility of the 'fourth estate' role as impartial informers.

And so we come to find ourselves with distrust of climate science and economic fears of a transition to low emissions being widespread and deeply entrenched.

David Young said...

MalA, This obsession with Koch is disconnected from reality. Here's an article on Steyer's spending. Soros also comes to mind. The whole of the media with perhaps the exception of Fox constantly talk about climate change and how its real and its making weather worse. Constant articles on sea level rising in Florida and ice sheets melting faster, etc., etc.

http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2016/06/02/bay-area-billionaire-tom-steyer-spends-big-as-climate-crusader/

The witch analogy is perfect. You have an ideology that demands strong action, but the public doesn't seem to agree with you. Therefore there must be a witch causing the lack of acceptance of your world view. It's childish quite frankly.

Hillary outspent Trump at least 2 to 1. She lost. No, it was not due to mysterious "evil doers" or "malefactors of great wealth."

Tom said...

MalAdapted, I have advocated a revenue neutral carbon tax for most of the past decade and I still do. And if by 'not all at once' you mean 50 years, then I agree with you.

Remember that we could begin a massive conversion program now--mostly using nukes for baseline, ethanol for liquid fuels and an accelerated build out of hydro in the developing world. And if we decided today to do so it would take at a minimum 30 years and (IIRC) cost about $23 trillion USD.

Whereas if we let things play out more naturally, with individual operators making decisions in their own interest but guided by the carrots and sticks of subsidy and tax, the same result will happen to about the 80% level in about 50 years at a cost of (again, IIRC) about $12 trillion.

Obviously it's not an either or situation. But what I am describing is actually something that is most suitable for economists to undertake to solve for best fit.

Michael Tobis said...

Economists can say what things will "cost". Maybe they will even be right about it, though as far as I can see they can't even agree on lunch.

But they can't say what we *should* do, which is my point.

Mal Adapted said...

Tom: MalAdapted, I have advocated a revenue neutral carbon tax for most of the past decade and I still do. And if by 'not all at once' you mean 50 years, then I agree with you.

[Ahem: TL;DR? Tough, don't attack me just because you didn't at least skim each paragraph. MA]

Well, Tom, I find nothing to disagree with in your last comment either. I have very little confidence that purely command-and-control solutions can have the desired result in any number of decades. Subsidies suck too. I'm also not arguing, however, that CF&D-BAT is the only way to decarbonize the US and global economies. OTOH, it's very likely to accelerate the process at low net social cost, and it has certain features that give it a better chance in the current US political climate (heh); above all, simplicity of concept, design and implementation.

With CF&D-BAT, we'll still decide how much energy in any form we buy, just like now. One way or another, however, we'll all pay for more of our private marginal climate-change costs when we incur them, so Pakistani day laborers won't have to ten years later. That should appeal to (non-racist) Americans' sense of fairness, if nothing else!

In its simplest form, CF&D-BAT would be difficult or impossible to 'game'. Once the fees are collected from FF producers and importers of manufactured goods, they'd be free to decide how much to raise their prices or lower their profit margins. Consumers would make the same buying choices we always have, but with a clear price signal to shift to carbon-neutral energy sources.

Revenue neutrality would be transparent, with skeptical auditors of all parties monitoring every dollar from its collection from a producer or importer to its arrival in your mailbox as a dividend. If the sum of the dividends distributed equals the sum of the revenue collected, the gubmint didn't git none!

Assuming the IRS administers CF&D-BAT, every consumer who files a federal tax return would get the same size dividend. The dividend would therefore be decoupled from both the time and amount of our fuel purchases, preserving the price signal. Consumers who use the national average amount of FFs would break even. Those who use more than the national average FFs would, in effect, pay those who use less. That ought to add an additional 'sporting' incentive for everyone to use even less! It also would make CF&D-BAT a progressive tax, because while lower-income people spend a larger portion of their income on energy, they use less total energy per capita than higher-income people do.

What each person does with the dividend would be up to them. Some would spend it on FFs, others on a plug-in electric car, others on a bicycle and orthodontia for their kids. Some would buy stock in Tesla Motors, others in Vestas Wind Systems. Meanwhile, fossil fuel producers would decide whether to keep selling FFs, buy Vestas, or cut their losses and sell something else instead. IOW, the good ol' free market doing what it does best, no irony intended.

To the extent that fossil fuel demand is price sensitive, CF&D-BAT would result in an immediate decline in greenhouse CO2 emissions. And in less time than the Koch club would have you believe, the build-out of the carbon neutral economy would bring overall energy prices down to about where they are now. Mission accomplished, nobody complaining except investors with stranded FF assets. What's not to like about CF&D with BAT? Serious question, actually, as I'm sure some people can find reasons not to like it. The specific proposal I back is the one backed by the Citizens' Climate Lobby (citizensclimatelobby.org). I'm interested in honest, constructive feedback. I'm not interested in any other kind of feedback.

GRLCowan said...

Does Michael Tobis or Mal Adapted consider my suggestion of a revenue-negative Hansen dividend unconstructive? It corrects government's conflict of interest. CD-BAT would be a progressive measure, because while lower-income people spend a larger portion of their income on energy, they use less total energy per capita than higher-income people do.

Don't be stuck on revenue neutrality. Shorter words for revenue-negativity are "tax cut". It would be popular.

Padraig said...

CF&D-BAT?

Could someone provide an English language version of this obscurity?

GRLCowan said...

Carbon fee and dividend (CF&D) with Border Adjustment Tax, or Tariff.

I say government is already taking loads of carbon fee, and this is the problem.

Mal Adapted said...

GRL Cowan, I didn't find your suggestion of a "revenue-negative Hansen dividend" in the comments, so I don't know whether it's constructive or not. My own advocacy of a US Carbon Fee and Dividend with Border Adjustment Tariff is based in part on my perception of current political reality in the US. As I said, the simplicity of CF&D-BAT as proposed by the Citizens' Climate Lobby is perhaps the strongest argument for it.

'Revenue neutrality' means CF&D-BAT funds itself independently of other taxes, and in a transparent way, so it's harder to game than more complicated funding schemes. It's intrinsically progressive, but income redistribution is limited by the amount of the fee and tariff revenues, which are expected to decline as the transition to carbon-neutrality advances; that, in turn, will limit obstruction by the upper half of the national consumption curve, i.e. the net losers. Also, the BAT does not raise domestic energy prices in addition to the carbon fee, and combining the BAT and domestic carbon fee revenues in the dividend should enhance popular support as well.

CF&D-BAT does not attempt to claw back past profits to fossil fuel producers resulting from their freedom to socialize the marginal climate-change costs of their products. Any additional costs imposed on producers would be passed through to consumers, and everyone who burns the stuff is ultimately responsible for AGW in any case. CF&D-BAT focuses on re-privatizing enough of the marginal, i.e. incremental, climate-change costs of the energy stored in fossil carbon in the market price of fuels, so that currently available carbon-neutral energy sources can compete fairly going forward. Making everyone pay a few bucks more for each tankful of gasoline they buy henceforth isn't punishing anyone, and CF&D-BAT is not intended to be punitive!

The purely economic rationale for CF&D-BAT is two-fold: to re-internalize a portion of the costs of future anthropogenic climate change into the energy market so involuntarily third parties don't have to pay for them; and to correct fossil energy prices so market forces can drive the build-out of the carbon-neutral economy, until average energy prices are about what they are now, and fossil fuels are no longer cost-effective for most applications. The BAT would discourage US manufacturers from moving offshore, and relies on the assumption that the buying power of US consumers is still strong enough to encourage our trading partners to follow our lead. There is some evidence that 'free-market' conservatives can be persuaded to support CF&D with BAT. There is probably at least that much support for abolishing fossil fuel subsidies.

Previously, Tom (who seldom misses the opportunity to attack a straw man) said: Why people so interested in the history of this planet's temperatures are so determined to ignore the history of innovation by its dominant species is truly puzzling. To Tom's credit, he exempts people who advocate CF&D-BAT. I'm pretty sure Tom and I agree on more things than not.

Michael Tobis said...

"I'm pretty sure Tom and I agree on more things than not."

I sometimes feel the same way. But Tom will never agree to that.

Michael Tobis said...

Follow-up article here: https://initforthegold.blogspot.ca/2017/10/quandaries-about-ethics.html